Archive for July 2021

Fresh Brewed Murder by Emmeline Duncan


How do you take your coffee? I was never really a routine coffee drinker until I started working from home during the quarantine. With so much extra time to devote to my mornings before work, I began to obsess about making the perfect cup of coffee. Since going back to work, I have less time in the mornings, but I still appreciate freshly grinding my beans before brewing a piping hot cup. Beyond being the perfect drink to kickstart my day, there's also something oddly satisfying about pairing coffee with a good book. When Emmeline Duncan's publisher sent me a copy of her new cozy mystery Fresh Brewed Murder, I was excited to find a book that combines my interest in coffee with my love for a good mystery. 

For most people walking by the urban food truck lot in Portland, the addition of yet another coffee cart might seem like nothing to take note of. For Sage Caplin, it marks the beginning of fulfilling a huge dream. Her gourmet coffee cart Ground Rules has been in the works for years. Along with her business partner Harley, Sage has spent the time perfecting a signature roast that will serve as the backdrop of her business venture. The cart is only meant to be the beginning. Sage has lined up meetings to include their coffee in local restaurants and has even secured an agreement to potentially include a full-on coffee shop in the new development that is springing up directly across the street. The business is brimming with the promise of potential, but Sage is about to be overcome with a harsh dose of reality. 

Space in the food truck lot is hard to come by, and not everyone is pleased to see Sage's cart move into the area. On the first day of opening, Sage befriends a young homeless girl and is inspired to allow her customers to pay forward a drink to those who are unable to make a purchase on their own. What is meant to be a positive way to interact with the community draws the ire of some of the other vendors who fear the presence of homeless individuals will detract paying customers from the property. There's also chatter amongst the other vendors about the gentrification of the surrounding area. They're specifically concerned about the large commercial property going in across the street, the very same development that Sage hopes to be a part of. Things come to a head when Sage discovers the murdered body of one of her very own customers at the cart. Is this a seriously unfortunate coincidence, or is someone trying to send her a message?

Cozy mysteries are meant to be light and easy reads that contain likable characters and just enough mystery to keep the pages turning. By those standards, Fresh Brewed Murder achieves everything it is supposed to and then some. Author Emmeline Duncan delves deeply into the detail of brewing the perfect cup of coffee, an element that sets her main character up to be a true expert of her craft while also grounding the story into some semblance of reality. I found the parts focussing on growing a business, perfecting a trade, and battling the impact of urban renewal on small businesses to be the most interesting. In fact, the actual mystery became more of a side story than the main driving force of the narrative in some parts. Still, I was invested enough in the main character that I had to see the story through. Fresh Brewed Murder ultimately ends up being like a simple morning cup of coffee. You've probably had better, more complex brews, but it will certainly do the job of getting you through the day, or in this case, on to your next read. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 25)

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett


The entirety of my reading last month was devoted to books written by and about members of the LGBTQ+ community. I was so encouraged to read stories that were as diverse as the people they represented. From sweet romantic comedies to searingly personal memoirs, each book provided a glimpse into the lives of their characters in a way that helps to normalize representation in publishing. One book, in particular, captured my attention not because it was particularly inspiring or happy, but because it was brutally honest about the realities of a relationship. I read Kristen Arnett's latest novel With Teeth a couple of weeks ago, but haven't been able to process my thoughts about it until now. 

As the novel begins, Sammie Lucas is still clinging to her dream of building a picture-perfect family. She works tirelessly with her wife Monika to raise their young son Sampson. Despite Sammie's desire to give her son the world, he just doesn't seem to have any connection with her. Monika thinks that Sammie is reading too much into Sampson's behavior, but that does little to shake the fear that she is raising a stranger. These fears are seemingly confirmed early on when Sampson willingly walks off with an unknown man as Sammie looks on with horror. Thankfully, she's able to intervene before any abduction can occur. Still, she couldn't help but notice the way her son smiled at the man as he walked away with him, an expression of happiness that she's rarely seen from the boy. 

That early incident serves as a foreboding glimpse at the tumultuous times to come. As Sampson grows and the years pass, Sammie's relationship with him only grows more distant. To her, there is obviously something off with her son, but numerous therapists, specialists, and even her own wife say the child is perfectly normal. To the outside world, her family is perfect. And isn't that what she always wanted anyway? Behind the facade of perfection, however, lies the truth. Sammie doesn't have the perfect child. Her son barely even talks to her. Worse, her relationship with Monika is slowly spiraling toward an inevitable end. In her quest for normalcy, Sammie is about to find out that normal involves imperfections. In this case, that might also mean the end of her life as she dreamed it. 

There's a moment in Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods when Little Red Riding Hood is rescued from the clutches of the Big Bad Wolf after being seduced into trusting him by his kindness. She sings about learning her lesson and declares that "Nice is different than good." The characters in With Teeth go through a similar journey of discovery. As a lesbian couple, they are bound by the desire to be perceived as normal, just two perfect moms and their well-adjusted son. As their relationships unravel around them, they are faced with learning the lesson that normal is different than perfect. In fact, normal can be downright messy. The discovery of that sentiment is the true power of Arnett's writing. She doesn't shy away from the realities of everyday life. In fact, she revels in showing the disfunction that can come from people just trying to get through the day. With Teeth is a bold reminder that we are all just doing our best to meet the individual challenges we face. Perhaps imperfection then is the most normal thing of them all. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 24)

Powered by Blogger.